I’ve seen some good movies this year, a few I would consider “great”, but none have really stood out over the others. I guess I would say that, so far, I’ve been a bit underwhelmed. Well, maybe not “under”… just “whelmed”. Not overly impressed. Granted, there’s a lot being released this time of year, and it will likely take me a few months to get through them. Anyway, here’s what I’ve liked so far…
I really liked Michael Moore’s latest documentary “Where to Invade Next”, the 1991 Studio Ghibli animated film “Only Yesterday” (whose English-language release in the U.S. occurred just this year), the excellent sci-fi think piece “Arrival”, the alt-family Robinson road trip tale “Captain Fantastic”, the 5-episode 8-hour long EPSN doc series “OJ: Made in America” and the Netflix series “Stranger Things”.
(though really, who didn’t like “Stranger Things”?)
I also liked “The Witch”, “Midnight Special”, “The Nice Guys”, Werner Herzog’s Netflix-produced doc “Into the Inferno”, “Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party”, “Hell or High Water” and “Rogue One”, which I just saw tonight.
Other films I enjoyed: “10 Cloverfield Lane”, the career-spanning doc “De Palma”, “Doctor Strange”, “Don’t Breathe”, “Everybody Wants Some”, “High Rise”, “Indignation”, “Into the Forest”, “Louder than Bombs”, “The Shallows”, “Sing Street”, “Swiss Army Man”, “The Lobster”, “The Program” and “Zootopia”.
I was disappointed by “Batman vs. Superman” (I watched the torturous 3-hour long director’s cut), “Knight of Cups” and “The Neon Demon”. Netflix’s “I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives in the House” was so boring, I had to stop watching before the first hour was over. I watched “Hardcore Henry” and I can’t recommend it other than to people who like watching other people play video games.
I saw a number of ‘blockbusters’ this year — “Captain America: Civil War”, “Ghostbusters”, “Star Trek Beyond”, “The Legend of Tarzan” — but the one I would recommend would be the live action “The Jungle Book”.
My film list has been heavily marked up in red, both crossing off titles and writing in ones that were impromptu watches. I’d wager I watched about 200 movies this year. Given the size of films in queue with Netflix and Facets, it’s going to take me at least another year of heavy consumption before I can significantly “dial it down”.
Speaking of Netflix, I watched and liked the first 3 seasons of “The Fall” as well as the first 3 seasons of “Halt and Catch Fire”. Also, the first season of “Lady Dynamite” and the third season of “Bojack Horseman”. Their stop-motion CGI film “The Little Prince” was cute and enjoyable.
Of the older movies I’ve seen this year, I really liked “Araya”, “The Dead Lands”, “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem”, “The Gold of Naples”, “Kings of the Road”, the 1980 PBS film “The Lathe of Heaven”, “Lianna”, “Lonely Are the Brave”, “Murder by Contract”, “On the Silver Globe” and “The World According to Garp”.
Figured it was about time to write about the films I’ve seen during the first half of 2016. A good number of them were 2015 films I didn’t get a chance to see last year but wanted to. Always playing catch-up.
Of last year’s films I watched this year, I recommend two animated ones; “Anomalisa”, if you like Charlie Kaufman’s other films, and “The Prophet”, just because it’s such a beautiful film.
I also liked “Carol”, “Grandma”, “99 Homes”, “In the Heart of the Sea”, “45 Years”, “Love”, “Youth”, “Black Mass”, “Tomorrowland” and “James White”.
I didn’t see the newest X-Men movie, but I was slightly tempted simply because Michael Fassbender is in it. I believe he’s one of the best actors working today. He starred in a new version of “Macbeth” last year that’s worth watching.
Despite some misgivings which I laid out last year, I did see “Montage of Heck”, and I’m glad I did. A really well done biopic on Kurt Cobain’s life, which thankfully didn’t end (or dwell) on his suicide. A much better documentary than “Soaked in Bleach”.
Still regularly binging on Netflix, Facets and Hulu. Some great older movie’s I’ve seen include “The Annunciation”, a collection of historical tales featuring only children; “The Deep” and “The Deep End” (1970, not the 2001 one), “Viy” (The Vij) from 1967, based (I believe) on Russian folklore; and “Vasilisa the Beautiful” from 1939, also based on Russian folklore… both Russian films are available on YouTube.
Last month we took advantage of a free one-month trial subscription to HBO Go, in part to watch the sixth season of “Games of Thrones” and the fifth season of “Veep”. We also watched all three seasons of “Silicon Valley”, a funny show by Mike Judge. HBO also has a knack for making quality original movies. I finally saw “The Gathering Storm”, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, “Game Change”, “Temple Grandin”, “The Normal Heart” and re-watched “When Trumpets Fade”. And, I watched most of the first episode of the first season of “The Wire”… progress!
We saw Aziz Ansari’s “Master of None” on Netflix, and the Hulu mini-series “11/22/63” as well as the six new episodes of “The X-Files”, which carried the general feel of the first 5 seasons of the series. I especially liked the episode “Founder’s Mutation”. I’d like them to bring it back for another season, even if it’s a truncated one like the 10th was.
Still waiting to see a few more films from 2015. They’re buried in my Netflix queue.
Favorite movies of 2015
I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see last year, but amongst the movies I did see, these are the ones I enjoyed the most and recommend…
My favorite movie of 2015 is “Mad Max: Fury Road”. It was written and directed by George Miller, who made the first two films in the series (in 1979 and 1981). The man deserves an Oscar for what he’s done with this movie.
I also liked “Ex Machina”, “Inside Out”, “Room”, Sicario”, “The Revenant” and “Straight Outta Compton”.
I really liked “National Gallery” though it was a 2014 release and I didn’t get to see it until last year. It’s 3 hours long, it held my attention throughout and I would like to see it again. Another 2014 film I saw last year and recommend is “Love is Strange” starring John Lithgow and Alfred Molina.
I also really liked “Steve Jobs” and am saddened it didn’t do better at the box office. It’s not a kind portrait of Jobs, which will turn off many who adore him. Michael Fassbender does some incredible acting and Aaron Sorkin’s script is on par with his work on “The West Wing” and “The Social Network”, perhaps even more impressive given that he’s creating three in-depth scenes (product rollouts) based on the best-selling biography by Walter Isaacson, a book that doesn’t focus on product rollouts.
Other movies I enjoyed: “Jurassic World”, “Maggie, “Slow West”, “Chappie”, “That Sugar Film”, “The Visit”, “Crimson Peak”, “The End of the Tour”, “Love and Mercy”, “Chi-Raq”, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, “Sisters”, “The Walk”, “The Hateful 8” (too long, though) and “Bone Tomahawk” (a better Kurt Russell western).
I saw “The Martian”, “Spotlight” and “The Big Short” and thought each of them was okay, but I have no desire to watch any of them again. “Spotlight” wasn’t as revelatory as it wanted to be (everyone knows about the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal nowadays) and “The Big Short” annoyed me for glossing over certain causes of the 2008 economic meltdown while overplaying other aspects (this article does a good job addressing these issues).
Each of these three movies has been nominated for the Best Picture oscar, though if I had to choose from amongst of the 8 nominees, I’d be torn between “Mad Max” and “The Revenant”.
I was disappointed by “Soaked in Bleach”, a documentary about Courtney Love’s possible involvement in Kurt Cobain’s death. To put it bluntly, the doc was very sloppy. I somewhat want to see “Cobain: Montage of Heck”, but like “Amy” and other docs about musical subjects that have come out recently, it feels like the music labels are partially supporting these films just to drive up sales of their catalogs.
I was disappointed by “Queen of Earth”. I liked the imagery of “Goodnight Mommy” but it was too torture-porn for my tastes.
Films I didn’t get to see but want to: “Carol”, “Grandma”, “99 Homes”, “Anomalisa”, “Brooklyn”, “In the Heart of the Sea”, “45 Years” and “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet”.
Between Netflix, Facets and Hulu, I’ve continued to watch many older films, I figure I watched over 200 movies last year, not counting theater films. After my annual new year’s redraft, my film list is now down to a single page… three column, 10-point font. Roughly 100 titles on this year’s list.
Of the older movies I saw last year, the ones I really liked were “All That Jazz”, “The Execution of Private Slovik”, “The Hurricane” (1937), “Letter from an Unknown Woman”, “Mamma Roma”, “Panic in the Streets” (seen just after our honeymoon in New Orleans, natch), “Passing Strange”, “The Quiet Earth”, “Round Midnight”, “The Silent Partner” and “The Two of Us”.
I regret that I have STILL not been able to watch “The Wire”, but we did manage to binge on the first five seasons of “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead” and all seven seasons of “Nurse Jackie”. The only show we regularly watch on Hulu is “Bob’s Burgers”, though it’s been on hiatus since November-ish. I’m cautiously optimistic for the six new episodes of “the X-Files” coming out… today, actually.
Haven’t written in some months. Let’s play catchup.
Still watching movies at a ridiculous pace, aided by subscriptions to Netflix (both streaming and DVDs), Facets, Hulu Plus and (for the next few weeks) a free trial membership of Amazon Prime… their selection kinda sucks, though they did let me enjoy the first season of “Veep”.
I think I found a way to con Netflix into sending me more than the 2-DVDs-at-a-time I pay for. What I did was load up my queue with over 100 titles, some of them listed as “very long wait”, and move all those to the top of my list. When they get a disc back in their hands, they find my next selection may not be available at the nearest shipping facility (which I believe is somewhere in Illinois). So they find another facility where it is available and ship it from there, emailing me a message that it may take 3-5 days to arrive (when in fact it’s usually just one extra day). In the meantime, they find the next title in my queue that is available at the nearest facility and ship that one as well. So they send me 2 titles for the price of one. Since my subscription is for 2 DVDs, it means at times I can have 4 DVDs out at a time, all thanks to their overly generous customer service.
Anyway, since my last entry (sadly, the only other one I’ve written this year), I’ve been trying to play catchup with a number of 2014 titles. The ones I saw and really liked include the Australian horror film “The Babadook”, Jon Stewart’s directorial debut “Rosewater” and the paintbrush anime “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya”. I liked “The Theory of Everything” but it wasn’t interesting enough that I feel I’d ever want to see it again. Ditto for “Whiplash”, though it’s story was a bit more compelling. I also saw “The Overnighters”, “Open Windows”, “Foxcatcher”, “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night” and “Young Ones”.
I still haven’t seen “Selma”, “Love is Strange”, “Inherent Vice” and a few others… they’ll have to fight their way into my summer schedule.
So far this year I’ve only seen a few movies in the theater and only two of them were worth recommending: “Ex Machina” and “Mad Mad: Fury Road”.
Recommendations for the following services:
Netflix — “In America”, “The Innkeepers”, “Letter from an Unknown Woman”, “Panic in the Streets”, “Passing Strange”, Yukio Mishima’s “Patriotism”, “Ronin Gai”, “Round Midnight”, “The Two of Us” and the early Wim Wenders film “The Wrong Move”.
Facets — Another early Wenders film “The American Friend”, “The Execution of Private Slovik”. Roman Polanski’s 1971 version of “Macbeth” and the 1928 silent film “The Wind”,
Hulu Plus — “The Challenge” (really neat 30s films about the climbing of the Matterhorn) along with hundred of Criterion films, and a bunch of older television shows like “Strangers with Candy”, “The State”, “Ren & Stimpy”, “Reno 911!”… because who has time to watch TV shows?
Actually, we did binge-watch the first four seasons of “The Walking Dead” — great show — as well as the third season of “House of Cards”, which I did not find as interesting as the first or second seasons.
So there’s that.
But hey! My life has not just been watching flickering images on a screen.
Viet and I got hitched in January (!!!) and we’ve begun the arduous process of applying for his permanent residency.
We spent our delayed honeymoon road-tripping down to New Orleans and Pensacola. In lieu of the bullet point entry I wrote for last year’s Yellowstone trip, I’ll condense our six days on the road to these six points:
1. I-55 through Mississippi is very beautiful, whereas the I-55 overpass by Lake Maurepas is a seemingly endless white-knuckle hellscape.
2. The French Quarter can be surveyed by foot in less then 4 hours; aside from that and the nearby historical cemeteries (which we were warned not to visit unless we paid to be in a tour group, lest we end up mugged and/or stabbed), I can’t conceive of wanting to go back unless I was there with someone who knew the city.
3. Within the French Quarter are the French Market and the Cafe Du Monde. Both are tourist traps. Avoid at all costs. Especially the cafe — it’s actually a chain, and you can find them all around the city (for example: across the street from the Hilton we stayed at) and they serve the exact same coffee and beignets as the original in the FQ.
4. There’s a neat tunnel on I-10 that takes you underneath downtown Mobile.
5. Pensacola Beach is nice and all, but if you’re willing to drive a bit further, turn left onto Fort Pickens Road and pay the $8 entry fee for the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Miles of deserted beaches, fine white sand, warm southerly breeze, green water and pelicans flying overhead. I figure the entry fee also keeps the riffraff out (like the noisy, obnoxious college kids getting drunk on St. Patty’s Day). At the very tip of the island is Fort Pickens itself, which offers guided and self tours.
6. Cutting through the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee is fun. Getting stuck in multiple bouts of gridlock on I-24 within Nashville and just north of the city is not fun.
Here’s a fun fact: with an average elevation of -1.5 feet below sea level, New Orleans is the lowest city in the western hemisphere with a population over 250,000.
Viet graduated earlier this month and just last weekend the government sent paperwork allowing him to go out and get a job. So between now and when he finds something, we’re planning another within-the-midwest road trip, something we could pull off over a 3-day weekend.
Been bicycling more this year. About a hundred hours in so far this spring.
Work keeps me busy. Get to the office before 7 and usually leave at 4:30, if not later.
Things continue to move in and out of the apartment. After graduation, Viet simplified his bookshelf and sold or donated a lot of books, and tossed out a lot of paperwork. Seems like every week a new plant finds its way onto a windowsill or out on our patio (ornamental cabbage and web cacti being the latest acquisitions). Picked up a much-needed coffee table for free and our new couch should arrive in a few weeks.
For several years my home movie watching had been done on either my laptop or on a 28″ Panasonic CRT model dating back to 2001. This particular unit was purchased by my brother and I for my dad’s 50th birthday; some years later he upgraded to a flat-screen TV and gave me the CRT (which replaced the 13″ Sharp I had been relying on since 1994). DVDs were played on a Sony DVD player purchased from Best Buy in December 1999 for $299. The Panasonic VCR has been traded between myself and my dad for some time, and I honestly can’t say how old it is, but the remote looks strikingly like that of the TV, so I’m going to guess another turn-of-the-21st-century product.
Earlier this year I received a free Sony Blu-ray player but lacked the needed digital converter to hook it up to the TV. I also signed up for Netflix this summer and have been anxious to try streaming high-def films to a screen larger than my MacBook. So when Black Friday rolled around, I cashed in a few Best Buy gift cards that had been collecting dust for the past couple years and purchased a 40″ Sony HDTV for under $150. My meager entertainment center has now been upgraded to 21st century standards.
I never utilized the plethora of connections on the back of the DVD player so they won’t be missed. Besides, I mostly rely on its built-in WiFi to access Netflix and Hulu content. The remotes are notably smaller and thinner than their brick ancestors, and after a few weeks of use I have found almost all needed functions can be access on either remote (screen size can only be changed on the TV remote). The TV sits only about a foot off the ground, but I find that’s about the right height for our viewing needs, given our couch-slouching tendencies.
On top of all that, Viet bought a Google Chromecast a few weeks ago and hooked it up to the TV’s USB port. He can now stream music from his phone or his iPad mini directly to the TV. Through his Google Music subscription, I can stream every Mannheim Steamroller X-mas tune throughout the apartment. He also hooked up his portable speaker to the TV, which has remarkably good bass for its size.
I have no problem quitting books I’m not interested in (see If on a winter’s night a traveler) and I’ve pushed myself to finish books I really didn’t want to (see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). But I find myself in the extremely unusual position of wanting to quit reading a book I’m actually interested in.
Last month I picked up a few books from the CF library, one of them being The Pale King, the book David Foster Wallace was working on when he died in 2008. His editor collected the manuscript and draft computer files and compiled a book out of the pieces. It’s about 500 pages long, of which I’ve read about 150, but the chapter on deck is 98 pages (I’ve flipped ahead to look) and I feel antsy about spending so much time on this book and I feel like quitting where I am and move on to two books I’ve read before but have been increasingly wanting to reread: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and (before the movie comes out next month) The Hobbit.
My usual rule of thumb with a book is that, if I’m not hooked within the first 50 pages, I give up and move on. Life is short and there are too many books I want to read (with what little free time I have during nights and weekends not allocated to movies). I feel I remain on-track to reading somewhere in the neighborhood of 500-600 books before I hit my eighties — legitimate old-age.
So back to The Pale King… it’s not that I’m not interested in the subject matter, because I am. And I’m not turned off by Wallace’s writing style; I did, after all, slog my way through Infinite Jest over the final months of 2005, his tome of 1,079 pages. Like that work, and like most of McCarthy’s novels, TPK can’t be skimmed: the beauty is in the words, the sentence structures, the dialogue, the imagery, et cetera. Each sentence deserves to be read deliberately, or not read at all.
Tomorrow I will remove my 1994 bookmark and return TPK to the library. It will remain on my to-read list for 2015, along with a dozen other titles I did not find time for this year.